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San Jose Sharks

Firing Boughner Isn’t Fair — But Makes Sense

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Credit: AP Photo

“We’re now beyond looking backwards. We’re now looking forward to the opportunities available with the new GM and a new head coach.”

That’s where San Jose Sharks interim general manager Joe Will is this morning, after letting head coach Bob Boughner, assistant coaches John Madden and John MacLean, and video coach Dan Darrow go last night.

But before we look forward, let’s look back at Boughner’s performance, the timing of the firing, Madden and MacLean’s work, among other things.

Moving on from Boughner was somewhat expected – Boughner was GM Doug Wilson’s hire, Wilson stepped down in April, Boughner’s Sharks have missed three consecutive playoffs, and you wouldn’t necessarily expect a new GM to be forced into a shotgun marriage with a non-winning coach.

But the timing of it has reportedly left a sour taste in the mouths of the NHL coaching fraternity.

“Teams have to do what they have to do. But this is late. This is really late,” Elliotte Friedman said on his 32 Thoughts Podcast this morning. “The reason why coaches are upset is [Boughner and his staff], it’s going to be really hard for them to find work, especially in the NHL, because a lot of jobs have been filled.”

A former NHL head coach offered a more measured perspective to San Jose Hockey Now: “I do agree [that the timing was awful].

“But with the circumstances surrounding their situation and trying to nail somebody down as a GM, it’s understandable.

“I don’t feel too bad for Bob, he’s got another year in his contract, and I assume the assistants do as well.

“When you take this job, you know the risks, and he’s being compensated for that risk. I still think he did a good job under those circumstances, but a new GM is gonna want to pick his guy.

“The staff [should understand] that. No one is surprised by that, including the coaches, they know the deal.”

Pierre LeBrun noted that Boughner has one year left on his contract at $1.5 million dollars. We don’t know the terms of Madden, MacLean, or Darrow’s contracts.

The San Jose Sharks did retain goaltending coach Evgeni Nabokov.

Parting with Madden is interesting: The penalty kill which Madden ran was the NHL’s second-best this past season.

Also, Darrow has been the Sharks video coach since 2015-16, and already survived one coaching change, San Jose’s transition from Peter DeBoer to Boughner in Dec. 2019.

MacLean was a late hire last off-season, and while his 22nd-ranked power play was less than spectacular, he did enjoy a winning record when he stepped in for Boughner in November and December when the bench boss was in COVID protocol. Timo Meier was also public in how MacLean impacted his All-Star campaign.

“We just came to the conclusion that amongst everything else, we just want this fresh start,” Will said, “and that’ll also create the opportunity for the general manager to find their head coach and to partner up with them moving forward.”

Will says that Boughner and his coaching staff were under consideration to come back until yesterday, and that may well be the case. But I do have to agree that it’s a bad look: You’ve known since early April that you need a new GM, it’s not a reach to guess that a new GM would want his or her own coach. Hopefully, Boughner and company were kept in the loop.

San Jose Hockey Now has reached out to Boughner for comment.

As for Boughner’s performance behind the bench?

Three straight years out of the post-season and a 67-85-23 overall record is obviously nothing to write home about.

But it’s hard to put that all on Boughner and Will knows it: “We appreciate Bob’s three-year run with the Sharks. And during his tenure, the team was known for working hard, and Bob was very invested in the plan to play and develop young players.”

It sounds like faint praise, but the fact of the matter was the San Jose Sharks front office, going back to Wilson, didn’t give Boughner a lot to work with. It was an expensive squad, laden with stars who might’ve led the 2017 Sharks to a Stanley Cup, but Erik Karlsson hasn’t been able to stay healthy and consistent, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has gone from world-class shutdown defender to the bottom pairing, Brent Burns has been good but not Norris-caliber, and Logan Couture may have lost a half-step. Throw in the Evander Kane debacle, Timo Meier’s up-and-down efforts, a lack of playoff-worthy depth up front and on the blueline, and two years of Martin Jones as your starting goalie.

Yes, Boughner failed to “turn chicken shit into chicken salad,” as a source put it to me in March. But who would have?

Ex-NHL Head Coach Defends Boughner: “He’s coaching with handcuffs on.” (+)

But if you’re firing Boughner for not elevating the Sharks enough, that’s all well and good. As Will noted, the team played hard and young players got better, but hey, it’s a results-based business.

“They’ve done an admirable job,” Will said of Boughner and company. “But we haven’t made the playoffs in three seasons.”

Maybe another head coach can get more out of these Sharks? I don’t blame them for looking elsewhere, there are, as Will noted, “plenty of good [coaching] candidates out there.”

I get it.

There are only so many ways that a team can eke out more points, especially with a veteran roster in San Jose’s cap hell, and a new coach is one of those ways. So while I would’ve liked to have seen Boughner with a better team – when the Sharks were healthier this year, he got a lot out of the team in the first half – this is, as the timing of the announcement indicates, both an unfair and unforgiving business.

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